A graduate of the School of Art Instructors in 1965, José Antonio Rodríguez Fuster, known to all simply as Fuster is an exponent par excellence of luminance and joy.
Fuster’s way with people, his loving disposition, and a harmony with the ordinary man rings throughout his work, unwittingly chronicling the everyday events in the life of his country. Hence, the popular characters in his paintings (many of whom have their roots in Picasso), who play dominoes, make love, ride bikes, play the guitar or maracas, dance, work, walk through fields and cities or pack public transport. And hence, too, the popular religious motifs that go from pictures to walls, from walls to sculptures, and from these to exquisite pottery. And the many symbols of Cuban mythology which intermingle, with hints of very diverse nature, in an iconography that behind its apparent simplicity reveals a deliberate conceptualization of profound ethical and existential repercussions, and even flirts with abstraction.
The artist’s people-oriented vocation, his intensive search for the human essence in simple things has led some critics to speak of naivety where much more complex relationships are actually shown, not only with large universal art movements, such as surrealism and even romanticism given the close communion between man and nature, but also with the great social and political conflicts of his time.
“In my art, there are constant references to the sea–fish, mermaids, ships–because I was born and grew up and live on seacoast towns: Caibarién, Santa Fe, Jaimanitas. And there are many other references to the fabulous world of the Cuban farmer, to the mountain men who I met on the Loma del Aura in the Sierra Maestra Mountains where I taught how to read and write when I was 14 (and turned 15 there): the sun, horses, cows, palms, and especially roosters, which have such an artistic and symbolic force.
“To those who say that my work is naive, I reply that they are the ones who are naive, because my art is filled with surrealism, and I prefer to define it as postmodern, although I do not like installations, without categorizations or rigid compartmentalization. My spiritual father is Picasso and my favorite uncle is Gaudi.
“But Brancusi has influenced me the most. During a visit to the city of Targu-Jiu, Romania in 1976, I was able to admire the Gate of the Kiss, the Column of the Infinite and the Table of Silence. I was so moved and overwhelmed with admiration that I promised myself that one day I would pay him a tribute, and here you have the Fuster Gate, the Table of Cubans (which, of course, is never quiet and always accepts one more guest) and the Rooster Tower.”
Making a tour of his home, one can see explicit tributes to other influences as diverse as the Cuban artist Eiriz Antonia, for whom he confesses great affection and admiration, Paul Gauguin and Michelangelo, whose Creation of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is celebrated on one of his own ceilings in his gallery-workshop-home. He has been influenced, however, not only by artists, but also by writers such as Onelio Jorge Cardoso, Cuba’s principal storyteller; the great Pablo Neruda of “Black Island”; and the magic realism of Alejo Carpentier’s “The Kingdom of This World”. Perhaps this is why filmmaker Roberto Chile has considered Fuster’s art as “a shipwreck between reality and fantasy.”
Yet, everyone who has been introduced to his work agrees on the enormous joy of living that it radiates, the manifest goodness of the artist, and his optimistic prying into the lives of his fellow countrymen, including circumstances which other people would consider somber.
“I’m a hearty and cheerful guy. I can deal with any topic with joy–power failure, for instance, which is not a happy situation–but we Cubans make the most of any situation thanks to our sense of humor, which I incorporate into my work.”